Bears nix deal with DT Larry Ogunjobi after failed physical, shift to DT Justin Jones
GM Ryan Poles called it a difficult and emotional situation, but necessary for, “protecting the Chicago Bears.”
The Bears haven’t been particularly active as they’ve waded into free agency, but new general manager Ryan Poles made one big splash this week by agreeing to a three-year, $40.5 million deal for defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi.
Now that contract isn’t happening.
The Bears rescinded their offer to Ogunjobi after he failed a physical Thursday and are quickly moving on to contingencies. Poles described the cancellation of the deal as a difficult but necessary decision in the interest of protecting the Bears.
“Larry Ogunjobi embodies everything we are looking for in a Bear . . . [but] after a standard and thorough physical and medical review with Larry yesterday afternoon, our medical team deemed him to have failed his physical,” Poles said Friday.
Ogunjobi, 27, was a necessity as the Bears prepare for a future without starting defensive linemen Akiem Hicks (presumably headed elsewhere in free agency), Eddie Goldman (cut) and Bilal Nichols (signed with the Raiders). He had a career year for the Bengals last season, starting 16 games and finishing with seven sacks and 49 tackles. He has played in 76 of a possible 81 regular-season games over his five-year career.
However, he injured his right foot in the Bengals’ playoff opener against the Raiders and missed the rest of the postseason. He tweeted Jan. 20 that his surgery was a success.
Poles’ statement specifically said the Bears wouldn’t be signing Ogunjobi “today” — phrasing that could leave open the possibility of something still coming together. Perhaps if Ogunjobi clears certain checkpoints in his rehab or agrees to a reduced contract, the Bears would revisit signing him.
Ogunjobi’s agent did not return a message seeking comment.
The Bears had been scheduled to introduce Ogunjobi, along with fellow newcomers Lucas Patrick and Nick Morrow, on Friday.
Patrick, 28, started 28 games at guard for the Packers over the last two seasons but signed a two-year, $8 million contract expecting to play center for the Bears. That would shift incumbent Sam Mustipher to right guard, the second string or off the roster. The Bears tendered Mustipher, an exclusive-rights free agent, for $895,000 last week.
Morrow, 26, played regularly at linebacker for the Raiders from 2017 through 2020 but missed all of last season with an ankle injury. He went on injured reserve before the season opener, and although the Raiders activated his return window before the playoffs, he did not play.
The Bears also agreed to terms with former Chiefs wide receiver Byron Pringle on Thursday and signed former Packers receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on Friday.
Additionally, they put a deal in place for former Colts defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, 26, who had six sacks under new Bears coach Matt Eberflus last season.
And with Ogunjobi out, they also signed former Chargers defensive tackle Justin Jones. A third-round pick out of North Carolina State in 2018, Jones, 25, emerged as a starter for the Chargers the next year. He has 101 tackles in 36 games over the last three seasons. He was near an agreement with the Colts, but Eberflus called him late Thursday after Ogunjobi failed his physical.
“I just fell in love with the conversation we had, and I believed in what he was talking about, and here we are today,” Jones said.
“What happened with Larry is terrible. He’s a great guy . . . a hell of a player, made a lot of plays last year. He deserved everything he was about to get. That’s just terrible. But it’s an opportunity that I can take advantage of, and I’m really excited to be here.”
Barring any snags with their signings, Pringle and Muhammad would push the Bears’ roster to 49 players.
Most of the new deals have been short and modest. Ogunjobi was Poles’ lone splurge as he seems to be prioritizing the enormous opportunity awaiting the Bears a year from now. Last week’s trade of linebacker Khalil Mack fits with that thinking as well. OverTheCap projects the Bears will have the second-most salary-cap space in 2023 at $131.7 million, and they’ll have all their draft picks, too. As they eye the upcoming draft, they have two picks in the second round, one in the third, two in the fifth and one in the sixth.
Although Poles isn’t tanking in 2022 by any means, it’s clear he doesn’t want to make any moves now that would crimp his plans down the road. Ogunjobi was the only free agent he believed was worth a major commitment, and it’s a tough blow for Poles to lose out on his first big signing.